After a surprisingly strong start, the Columbus Blue Jackets are suddenly in free fall.
The Blue Jackets look to end a three-game losing streak Friday when they visit the Minnesota Wild.
For a franchise that has never been to the playoffs and tied for the sixth-fewest points in the league last season, Columbus (9-8-4) opening with only three regulation losses in its first 13 games was fairly unexpected.
The Blue Jackets, though, have since compiled a 1-5-2 mark and now have the fewest wins of any Central Division team. A big reason has been the recent struggles of the Blue Jackets' defense and goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
Leclaire was 7-2-0 in his first nine games with a 1.12 goals-against average, a .957 save percentage and five shutouts. He currently leads all Western Conference goalies in All-Star voting, but in his last five starts, he is 1-3-1 with a 3.57 GAA.
In a 5-2 home loss to Florida on Wednesday, the game was tied after two periods but Leclaire allowed three goals in a 3:16 span of the third.
"I've got to come up with a few more key saves," said Leclaire, who stopped 24 shots. "It's the story of the game, on my side."
The Blue Jackets also gave up three power-play goals, a game after allowing two in a 5-4 shootout loss to Detroit. They had not allowed any in the previous three games, and still are among the top penalty-killing teams in the league at 87.4 percent.
"I thought we were really loose in our own end, even in the first period," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is the first time we had a lot of people who didn't bring it. We didn't compete at the level we needed to compete at, for the first time at home in a long time."
Now, Hitchcock's team goes on the road, where it is 0-3-2 in its last five. The Blue Jackets also lost 3-2 at Minnesota on Oct. 6, when the Wild (11-8-2) slipped two third-period goals past backup goalie Fredrik Norrena for a comeback win.
The Wild, who are 7-3-0 at home this season, had won three in a row at the Xcel Energy Center before Wednesday's 4-2 loss to Vancouver. Marian Gaborik scored twice but was trumped by a hat trick from Vancouver's Markus Naslund.
That game marked the return of veteran defenseman Sean Hill, who made his Wild debut after a 20-game suspension for testing positive for an anabolic steroid last spring while playing for the New York Islanders.
"I felt good at times, but other times not so good. The timing was off at times, but it was like I expected," Hill said. "It's going to take me a little time, but hopefully hard work and some experience will get me through until I get up to where I feel really comfortable."
The Wild now hope to get back left wing Pavol Demitra, who has 10 points in 10 games but has missed the last seven with a strained groin.
Like Columbus, Minnesota started quickly. But the Wild also have stumbled of late, losing four of six to post a 4-8-1 mark since their 7-0-1 start.
They've also had problems with goaltending, and Josh Harding has started the last two games after starter Niklas Backstrom was pulled in a 6-2 loss at Vancouver last Friday.
Since the beginning of the 2005-06 season, Minnesota is 4-3-2 against Columbus.
Blue Jackets left wing Rick Nash has scored a goal in four straight games entering Friday's contest.